Hunters fight food insecurity with meat donations for families in need
As national food banks across the country grapple with dwindling stocks and supply chain issues, hunting enthusiasts have stepped up their game with donations of legally harvested meat to fill the void.
Deer, bison, elk, antelope or moose are great alternative sources of protein against the shock of soaring beef prices, says Eric Luongo, regional resource coordinator for the Montana Food Bank Network at Missoula.
With all the rising food prices, Luongo said hunter donation programs have grown in reach and demand.
“We hope it will increase and more donations will come in,” Luongo told The Epoch Times.
Luongo oversees wild meat donations through Hunters Against Hunger, a statewide program working in conjunction with Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks.
The pilot effort began in 2014 and has expanded to include many community food banks and meat processing facilities across the state.
According to the MFBN, hunters who legally harvest big game during hunting season can donate “some or all of their meat to feed hungry Montana people.”
Luongo said the network distributed 25,000 pounds of meat last year, providing nearly 21,000 meals to local families in need.
However, before the pandemic, the network was receiving and processing nearly 50,000 pounds of meat per year. Luongo said the network hopes to close that gap this year.
“One of the challenges of the program is having enough hunters and processors across the state,” Luongo said.
Harvest during the pandemic
Luongo described the program as a partnership between about 600 to 700 Montana and non-state hunters who harvest the meat, 32 processors who create the finished product, and food banks who distribute it.
The Hunters Against Hunger program has “really helped” the Gallatin Valley Food Bank in Bozeman, Montana, over the years, said program manager Laura Stonecipher.
“Many of our customers want locally sourced foods and game meat is one of the best options for that,” Stonecipher told The Epoch Times.
Prior to the start of the program, the food bank paid all game meat processing costs.
“Now we can redirect those funds to other food needs,” she said.
Stonecipher said the program also benefits the local economy by helping game processors. Since 2014, the food bank has received over 70,000 pounds of game meat to distribute to customers.
“We already have people asking when game meat will be back in our store,” Stonecipher added.
Kelli Hess, acting co-executive director of the Missoula Food Bank and Community Center, said the state’s plentiful supply of wild game is a natural boon in the fight against hunger.
“We are so lucky to live in a state that allows harvested game to be donated to our local food banks,” Hess told The Epoch Times.
“We have hunters who hunt specifically to provide meat for our store, and others who donate because they will never be able to eat all the meat they get. Our customers love wild game, and when we get it, it never lasts long.
Idaho Hunters Feeding the Hungry is a nonprofit organization incorporated in 2002 to provide “big game meat” to area pantries and “food insecure” families.
“With the help of hunters and meat processors, we can transform large game surpluses into nutritional protein for the hungry,” according to the organization’s website.
The San Antonio Food Bank in Texas also receives wild game donations. The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation runs game meat donation programs on a larger scale.
Big game, big need
“Instead of throwing away or wasting legally harvested game meat or excess meat harvested through nuisance or crop damage licenses, donation programs have sprung up across the country with the goal of transforming the meat into meals for those in need,” the organization said on its website. .
“Many hunters who wish to donate individual animals that they harvest in a regulated hunt participate in these programs each year, which helps to maintain the historic role of hunters as food providers and to ensure game meat’ is not wasted.
The organization cited research that shows 87% of adults will support hunting if the main reason is to get meat.
Over the past decade and a half, “meat has been the most common and fastest growing motivation for hunters nationwide,” according to CSF.
The CSF also found that many states allow hunters to contribute money to support wild game donation programs when purchasing their licenses.
In 2010, nearly 3 million pounds of deer, elk, antelope, moose, pheasant and waterfowl meat ended up on American tables through donation programs.
A deer, for example, can provide about 50 pounds of venison. An adult elk can provide up to 200 pounds of meat.
The MFBN received donations of 22 deer last year, enough to feed hundreds of families, Luongo said.
“The least yield is going to be an antelope because it’s a smaller animal,” Luongo said. “The majority are deer, but there are a fair amount of antelope. Bison and moose are somewhat less common.
A matter of food insecurity
All donated meat is sent to a processing facility, ground into hamburger meat and packaged in 1-pound packages for distribution to Montana food banks.
“I know the [program] the funding is there. I think it’s a great program, and it will continue to grow,” Luongo said.
The non-profit Backyard Bow Pro program in North Carolina is a network of hunters fighting food insecurity by donating legally harvested deer.
Meanwhile, several states have recently passed legislation creating or expanding game meat donation programs.
In 2020, a Missouri Wild Game Bill (House Bill 1711) was passed. Texas has expanded meat donation programs (HB 2214) to include legally harvested exotic species.
In April, the Utah legislature passed HB 142, which allows hunters to donate wild game meat to local food banks.
“If everyone who harvested an elk donated even 1%, that would be over three tonnes of elk meat.
“If the average family meal consists of 20 ounces of meat, that would be over 6,000 meals for people who might not have had a wholesome, wholesome meal otherwise,” according to hunttoeat.com.
At the height of the pandemic in November 2020, Pennsylvania Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding encouraged the state’s more than 850,000 licensed hunters to donate a deer to feed families in need.
The non-profit organization Hunters Sharing the Harvest coordinated the effort.
“It’s a shining example of the good that can happen when public sector support and private sector generosity work together to solve a problem,” Redding said, noting that more than 2 million Pennsylvanians were at risk of suffering from the disease. hungry in 2020.